European Union Policy Studies

Fall 2016: Letter from the Director

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New acquaintances often ask, “So, what do you do for a living?” “Political science,” I reply.  “Aha, must be interesting times for you these days!” My standard response in this situation is to say something like, “Yes, interesting times, indeed.  I focus on European politics, so I’m not as involved as some of my colleagues with US campaigns and elections. But politics everywhere is a moving target, and I’m always trying to stay one step ahead.”  After that response, the conversation usually veers off in other directions.

Over the past few months, though, my new acquaintances have followed up with more substantive comments and questions. Since the June Brexit vote, people want to talk about UK politics. They want to search for threads that connect what’s happening in Britain (and Europe more broadly) with what’s happening in the US.

The Brexit vote has brought challenges and uncertainties aplenty, but I see people’s eagerness to talk through these issues as a real positive. We hear a lot about the Middle East and East Asia, but people still “feel” what is unmistakably true and cannot be forgotten: the transatlantic relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. It’s a “special relationship,” in which shake-ups on one side of the Atlantic have important implications for developments on the other side of the pond. The relationship between transatlantic partners has major implications for global political order.

My more recent acquaintances often ask, “So, where is all of this headed? What’s going to happen next?” Those are difficult questions to answer, but it’s our responsibility—as people who’ve spent a lot of time and mental energy studying the EU and the transatlantic relationship—to give them our level best.

EUPS founding director Jessica Adolino, DC-area alums, and I tried to do as much in October 2016, when we collectively kicked off JMU Washington Center Public Affairs Roundtable Series. At that event we talked, among other things, about the fact that leaders of EU institutions and EU-27 states have given disparate responses to the “what next” question. European Council President Donald Tusk has so far offered my favorite quip. In case you missed it, Tusk responded to the British foreign secretary’s claim that “our policy is having our cake and eating it too” by noting that, as far as the EU-27 were concerned, there will be “no cakes on the table, for anyone . . . only salt and vinegar.” This may have been the best UK-EU rhetorical exchange since Nigel Farage’s (in)famous “damp rag” throw down vs. Herman van Rompuy—“ . . . We don't know you, we don't want you, and the sooner you're put out to grass, the better.”

Quips like these are certainly entertaining, and while the EU-27 side of the Brexit game has been quite coherent and united in recent weeks, the EU’s lack of a clear strategic direction remains concerning. While there has been serious talk about the UK’s exit “freeing up” the EU to pursue new projects (e.g., deeper security and defense cooperation), the world is still awaiting a bold, compelling, common vision that can mobilize European populations and overcome a widespread sense of shiftlessness and malaise. A consequential referendum focusing on domestic institutional issues will take place in Italy in December. General elections are not far off in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Spain has been stuck in neutral, Poland seems increasingly inclined to an illiberal path à la Orbán, and there is little popular groundswell for bold action coming out of the Commission or the Parliament. Low politics initiatives continue apace, but there have been few indicators, to date, of confluence and collaboration on big-picture issues.

I am very happy to report, on the other hand, that “confluence and collaboration” are everywhere in evidence within the broader EUPS community. In Florence this fall, for example, EUPS students and faculty members collaborated with partners from the University of Florence in a “Brexit and Beyond” seminar series. In the area of research, I continue to work with alum Jerry Wohlgemuth (EUPS 2010) on a comprehensive archive of European legislators’ Twitter-based communications (not just MEPs, but members of the national parliaments of member states, too).

Jerry has also been instrumental in introducing JMU undergraduate students to the world of European politics research. This fall, using data that he collated, students in my course on the politics of the EU are comparing online responses to Jean-Claude Juncker’s September State of the EU address, on one hand, and such responses to the European Council’s September summit in Bratislava, on the other. The goal here is to help students (and me, to be frank!) discern whether the Commission President or the European Council acts as a more influential executive leader. We hope that this activity will introduce students to the mental and professional rewards of knowing the EU closely. This will also be the goal when a fresh group of JMU undergraduates collaborate with peers from over a dozen regional colleges and universities at the 24th annual Mid-Atlantic EU Simulation in Washington this November.   

You may have noticed that our program web site ( has recently been updated (if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out).  This, too, is the product of collaboration with alumni: Christina Craver (EUPS 2012) has worked closely with faculty and staff on both sides of the Atlantic to give the website a more attractive and user-friendly interface and has also helped bring current students (especially social media and administrative assistant Katelyn Weeks and student life and newsletter assistant Anna Sullivan) up to speed as we continue strengthen our social media outreach. The design of the newsletter you’re reading also has a lot to do with Christina’s vision and hard work.

Having reported a bit on fruitful collaborations, I’ll start wrapping up this message by calling on you (if you’re a program alum) to collaborate, and, specifically, to complete the 2016 EUPS alumni survey, which is available at I make this call to alums every other fall. I know that online surveys can be tedious and that it’s easy to ignore solicitations like this one. But the survey will only take about ten minutes, and your responses really matter (even if you’ve done a survey like this one multiple times already!).  How? They generate the data, for example, that Christina has incorporated into the new website sliders. They allow me to answer questions from prospective students (e.g., what do alums do after they graduate? Where do they settle? How long does it take them to get jobs?). And they make it possible to communicate the program’s value to various audiences within and outside of the university.

Here’s one other reason to do the survey: at the upcoming EUPS 10th Anniversary Celebration, I’d like to talk to you about what the surveys tell us.  It’ll be a useful exercise in “looking back and looking forward.”  To get that scoop, though, you’ll have to attend!  The celebration hashtag (#EUPStop10), remember, is live. You can register for the event (which will run from May 4, 2017 – May 7, 2017, as long as at least 20 alums register) at

As I’ve mentioned before, the anniversary celebration is the quintessential example of collaboration.  Thanks again to all alums who have provided the ideas, hours, and dedication that it’s taken to plan such an exciting endeavor. I am really looking forward to the celebration.

Forza Europa, Forza America, e Forza JMU!

John Scherpereel

John Scherpereel

Published: Monday, October 31, 2016

Last Updated: Monday, October 31, 2016

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